What better time than now, when the construction of new buildings is at a low ebb, to focus on the restoration and maintenance of heritage structures

A strong and growing branch of ConstructionSkills is the built heritage sector, very ably led by Seamus Hanna, the heritage and conservation manager. It focuses not only on those heritage buildings listed and protected by legislation, but also on the 6 million pre-1919 buildings in the UK, of which about 600,000 are listed. Of these, 21% are in England, 20% in Scotland, 16% in Northern Ireland and a huge 33% in Wales. Maintaining, refurbishing, re-using and repairing our heritage stock is a vital link to the past, as well as being linked increasingly to the sustainability agenda.

ConstructionSkills has led the way by establishing the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG), which is supported by Seamus‘ department. It has provided niche training in these technical crafts, and the level of expertise and passion in the heritage team is second to none.

There are now two National Heritage training academies – one in the South-west, the other in Yorkshire and Humberside – that bring together specialist training providers to work closely, so as not to compete for the same candidates. As for attracting and retaining talent, Seamus and his colleagues routinely attend craft skills fairs and events to promote training opportunities, and work with the media to raise the sector’s profile.

Maintaining, refurbishing, re-using and repairing our heritage stock is a vital link to the past, as well as being linked increasingly to the sustainability agenda


This is a sector which I am heavily involved in, and I was responsible, working with Sir Patrick Cormack MP, who is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group, in launching a memorandum of understanding about the built heritage sector in England in March at the House of Commons. It has been well received by major clients, local authorities and professional bodies. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, ConstructionSkills is working with Scottish and Ulster organisations to deliver a traditional building skills action plan. In Wales it has set up a traditional and sustainability building skills advisory group, involving the Welsh assembly. The heritage team is also working closely with the Construction Industry Council on a pan-professional approach to issues affecting building professionals in this sector, possibly considering implementing higher level NVQs and foundation degrees.

For the past four years, ConstructionSkills has funded the NHTG’s Training the Trainers Programme to support the level three heritage skills NVQ qualification. ConstructionSkills is also working closely with the Construction Liveries Group to develop a career-based pan-skills model, and I will be jointly hosting a meeting in the new year to promote this concept throughout the industry.

Furthermore, the qualifications and standards department of ConstructionSkills is currently completing national occupations standards for an NVQ in senior crafts, which will be available to built heritage craftspeople and will lead to master crafts status being awarded by a livery company, a trade federation or an association.

ConstructionSkills is completing national standards for an NVQ in senior crafts, which will lead to master crafts status being awarded


Qualifying the workforce is essential across every construction discipline. Working with CSCS and the NHTG, ConstructionSkills developed a CSCS heritage skills card, which includes an NVQ level three, achieved through the on-site assessment and training process, and allows experienced practitioners to be qualified on site. ConstructionSkills is also funding the development of a pilot heritage apprenticeship programme and plans to have 10 heritage occupations available in 2010.

The £1m Heritage Lottery Fund bursary scheme, which ConstructionSkills partners, provides live site-based training for bursary holders by placing them with experienced heritage craftspeople, companies and organisations. Bursary holders receive £15,000 a year pro-rata, because placements may vary in length, to train alongside placement providers or through a self-referral system. To date, all funding has been committed for the 80 placements, and ConstructionSkills helped to secure an extra £500,000 to extend the scheme until March 2012 to allow 56 more placements.

Spreading the word about heritage skills is vital. The NHTG website (www.nhtg.org.uk) is the first port of call for information and advice on all aspects of training in the sector.

Our heritage buildings are the backdrop to urban and rural life in Britain and are admired and envied around the world. Millions of tourists venture here for a glimpse of our magnificent past. To maintain these buildings, we must continue to ensure we have the best, highly-skilled people to keep them in good repair.